Do we need two Internets?

[As ever, this is also on the BBC News website]

Jonathan Zittrain’s recent book, The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It, has spurred a lot of discussion both online and offline, with blog posts lauding his insights or criticising his over-apocalyptic imagination.

The book itself makes fascinating reading for those who have watched the network grow from its roots in the research community into today’s global channel for communications, commerce and cultural expression.

And the distinction that Zittrain makes between computers and devices that are open for hacking, exploration and creative use and those which are locked down and limited is one that we can clearly see.

An iPhone and an Asus Eee PC are very different objects, and I can’t imagine anyone scrawling ‘this machine kills fascists’ on their iPhone in homage to Woody Guthrie, while my son has just done this to his Asus.

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My bookmarks for March 18th through May 3rd

Here’s what I tagged on between March 18th and May 3rd:

Twitter is the Higgs Boson of the Internet

The Higgs field is what gives particles their mass.  Go into orbit and try to push a 1 tonne satellite – you can’t. It weighs nothing but its mass is unchanged by being in free fall or even in deep space, and so the force needed to change its momentum is still too great for a mere astronaut.

Without the Higgs field there would be no mass and no matter, because mass is what distorts space-time and creates the effects we interpret as the ‘force’ of gravity.  Without the Higgs field there would none of this world, none of us, nothing to be conscious or conscious of.

One way of imagining what the Higgs field does it that it makes space-time exert a drag on objects, like walking through water.  It’s a tiny effect, which is one reason why gravity is so weak compared to electromagnetism or the strong and weak nuclear forces, but it adds up.  With enough particles you can build atoms and planets and stars and galaxies. A whole observable universe, even.

And Twitter is doing something similar in the virtual world.

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Computer, heal thyself

[This is also on the WattWatt site, an online community for anyone concerned with energy efficiency]

Like every other product of the advanced manufacturing capabilities of a long-industrialised society the computers that surround us – and, for the pacemaker wearers among us, that we have taken into our bodies – carry an environmental cost.

Silicon may be cheap, but turning it into processors requires vast amounts of energy, clean water and many potentially toxic chemicals.

Some of the raw materials used elsewhere, like the coltan in our mobile phones, are extracted at great human and environmental cost.

Displays and casings may contain heavy metals and damaging chemicals, while the disposal of old computers is becoming a significant issue.

And the billions of processors, hard drives, screens and network devices that we increasingly rely upon consume more and more electrical energy, much of it wastefully generated from non-renewable sources that release carbon into the atmosphere.

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